We recently discovered a new impact start-up called ‘We Journey’ (http://wejourney.co/) who specialise in taking eager travellers on experiential trips that give back to the local communities they visit. Their trips are not like standard tours where you jump on and off a bus, take some snaps and move to the next location. They are life changing trips that will never let you see the world the same way again!
A few weeks ago my Fiancé (@mr_jamie_green) and I went on a journey to Guatemala to help build houses for families living in slum conditions. To be honest, we didn't get a chance to read too much of the pre-adventure material, so we came with open eyes & no expectations. We touched down in Guatemala City late on a Thursday afternoon and jumped in a car to head out to our first stop to meet the rest of our Journey team. It was going to be a two-hour drive, so Jamie thought he would do a bit of work on the way. He pulled his laptop out while we were sitting in pretty heavy traffic. It was only moments before our driver said in broken English, ‘No! No! Bang! Bang!' We thought ‘What?’ We then realised he was indicating that criminals roam through the traffic looking for people on phones and laptops to hold them up at gunpoint. We quickly realised we were far from our safe little humble town of Byron Bay, Australia… let the adventure begin!
We arrived in Antigua and met a team of 30 other Journeyers. The next day was a free day to explore the amazing colourful streets and capture what we wanted - it is an incredibly beautiful place! Day two was a 4:30am wake up call to head out to a place called Suacité, where we would start our first day of work building houses. All 30 of us jumped on a school bus and rode the bumpy, windy roads of Guatemala. On our way we were told we would be staying in a local school, sleeping in the same room on the floor. The school had no showers and the locals would be cooking for us. This was no luxury travel, but a raw experience any adventure seeking person would thrive on!
We arrived at the school and were greeted by 100 volunteers from a youth-led non-for-profit called Techo (https://www.techo.org/) who have been building houses in the area for 15 years. We were split off into groups, picked up our tools and got back on the bus to head down to the family’s land we were about to build on. Techo goes through a unique selection criteria for the families they support. Part of the qualification criteria is that the family must pay for a portion of the cost of the house and also dig and level the foundation prior to the volunteers arriving to help. So a fair bit of work had been done before our arrival. The volunteers are all under 25 and mostly in year 12 or just out of high school. It was incredible leadership and passion shown by such young people.
We met our beautiful family and got straight to work digging the holes for the foundation of the house. Our first challenge working in the slums is that we have no power, so everything is manual labor. Second to that, almost no one spoke fluent English and our Spanish is next to nothing. For the next few hours, we bonded and communicated via music, dance and a fair bit of sign language. There was something special and humbling about not being able to understand everything that was spoken. I actually learnt you can understand a lot of what someone is saying by their body language, facial expressions & tone of voice! The ground was so hard and rocky, and it took over 2 hours to dig just one hole - we had to dig 12 in total! If we didn't have the help of the house owner who worked in construction we may have never achieved it. He was so strong and I have never seen someone work so hard. It was easily one of the hardest days work I had ever done. (I'm usually sitting comfortably behind my computer haha).
Day three was more rewarding as we started to put the walls up and it was evident we had achieved something. I had a conflicting moment that day as the final wall went up and I realised that the space was only just slightly bigger than my bedroom at home. This family had nine children! How would they all fit? I had an overwhelming sense of guilt that we could not give them more, but as the day went on all the children from the family got really involved with the final part of the building. You could see their excitement and how happy they were to have a new clean place to call home. They had such a great family values, the adorable children never complained and they worked hard together. Witnessing this strong sense of family and living so much in the moment, I stopped and I thought perhaps they had something we didn't have back home, a deeper connection we all desire.
We nailed the final roof panel on the house, celebrated with the family, said our goodbyes and wished the family luck! Meeting back up with our Journey group we reflected and shared our highs and lows of the experience. The team was made up of young and old but we all now shared this particular bond that is hard to put into words… We drove four hours out of the slums and arrived at a place called Lake Atitlan which had all the western comforts of running water, beds and food cooked in a kitchen. This time was crafted for us to ground ourselves and connect on a deeper level for the next two days, and it was exactly what we needed after such a huge challenge.
This trip was truly a life changing experience and an amazing way to travel, see a country, immerse yourself in local culture, meet new like-minded people and give back at the same time. Journey have another trip to Guatemala in May - take a look here http://wejourney.co/72117-gua-summer and if you book use this $250 Discount Code: GUATEMALA. If you have any questions just DM me and I will be happy to help! #TRAVELWITHPURPOSE